Doctors fear vaccination centres may become virus hotspotsPeople are reportedly getting infected after vaccination. Officials say religious processions and political rallies are also driving the spread of the virus.
Five days after receiving his second dose of Covid-19 vaccine, Jitendra Chaudhary, a local from Tikapur, of Kailali district tested positive for Covid-19, last week. The 42-year-old, who works as a manual labourer in Kathmandu, said he could have contracted the virus while waiting in line at the immunisation centre.
“I am not sure where I got infected but there was a long queue at the immunisation centre and maintaining physical distance was not possible,” said Chaudhary, a father of two. “My health is okay now but my children are sick.”
This is a common refrain of hundreds of people and doctors suspect that vaccination centres may have turned into Covid-19 hotspots.
A 73-year-old woman from Rasuwa district has been receiving treatment at the intensive care unit of the Samakhushi-based Green City Hospital. Doctors say her condition is still critical.
Her relatives said that she got sick three days after receiving the second dose of AstraZeneca vaccine. However, she tested negative for Covid-19 in the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test at the hospital.
Doctors say that the PCR test may show a negative result, when an infected patient waits more than a week after the onset of symptoms.
“When patients go to hospital only after becoming serious, tests can show negative results but their health conditions can become critical,” Dr Santa Kumar Das, deputy director at the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, told the Post. “Due to lack of prompt testing, patients are seeking hospital care only after they become serious but tests done at that stage can show negative results. By that time, the patients might already be in serious conditions with pneumonia or other illnesses.”
Despite repeated warnings by public health experts, epidemiologists and virologists, authorities concerned have not taken any steps to reduce crowding at vaccination centres and the public also have not taken the warnings seriously.
“We have alerted not only the officials and the health secretary but also the minister of state for health about the transmission risks at vaccination centres,”Dr Binjawala Shrestha, a public health expert, told the Post. “Authorities have been running immunisation centers at hospitals, where Covid-19 patients are treated. Such immunisation centers should be relocated.”
The Patan Hospital administration said that it had requested the local administration and the Health Office of Lalitpur to expedite vaccination during lockdowns.
But officials including the chief district officer rejected our proposal outright saying people would come out if vaccination campaigns are run during lockdowns, said an official who asked not to be named.
“We stopped the immunisation programme at our hospital as there is a high chance of the hospital turning into a new hotspot,” Dr Ravi Shakya, director at the hospital, told the Post. “How can we continue Covid-19 immunisation here as infected people roam freely and there is no mechanism to prevent their mobility.”
Every day over 200 people come for PCR tests at the hospital and over 20 percent are testing positive.
Public health experts say reducing crowding at immunisation centers is a management issue and there are multiple ways to manage crowds.
Crowding can be reduced by increasing the number of immunisation centers or by issuing vaccine coupons to people so that they can visit the vaccination centres only when their turn comes, according to Shakya.
Officials at the Department of Health Services said that the vaccination centers alone are not responsible for the current spike in coronavirus cases. They said the ongoing festivities, political gatherings and crowded marketplaces are also driving the spread of the virus.
“People wear masks at vaccination centers, but we have seen people without masks participating in their thousands in religious festivities and processions, at political rallies and other public meetings,” Dr Jhalak Gautam, chief of the National Immunisation Programme, told the Post. “We should discourage such activities.”
The Department of Health Services said that Covid-19 vaccines are being administered from 5,000 immunisation centers nationwide.
Public health experts say authorities should take necessary measures to ensure that immunisation centers are not crowded.
“Immunisation centers should be well managed and it is the responsibility of the authorities concerned to ensure that people coming for vaccine are not infected there,” Dr Shyam Raj Upreti, coordinator of Covid-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee, told the Post.
So far, 4,943,732 people have been administered with the first dose of Covid-19 vaccine (16.47 percent) and 3,857,598 people (12.85 percent) have been fully vaccinated.
The Health Ministry said that in the last 24 hours, 35 people died of coronavirus infection. The country’s active Covid-19 cases stand at 38,250.